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Although cooking meals at home can sometimes feel like a chore, growing your confidence in the kitchen does more than just make it easier to put food on the table: Science says it can even make you happier. According to new research from Edith Cowan University in partnership with The Good Foundation and Jamie’s Ministry of Food Initiative, feeling self-assured in your cooking skills is good for your mental health. “This suggests a link between cooking confidence and satisfaction around cooking, and mental health benefits,” lead researcher Dr. Joanna Rees said in a university release.
To obtain their findings, the study’s collaborators put together a mobile food kitchen that provided community cooking lessons at the university’s campuses between 2016 and 2018, StudyFinds reports. Throughout that two-year span, 657 people took part in the seven week-long healthy cooking class. During that time scientists from the ECU Institute for Nutritional Research measured the program’s impact on participants’ cooking confidence and self-reported mental health. The researchers also polled participants on their overall satisfaction with cooking and their diet habits.
The researchers found that the participants who took the cooking course showed notable improvements in their mental health, overall health, and general wellbeing, in comparison to the control group. What’s more, these spikes in vitality appeared directly after the participants finished the cooking class and lasted for up to six months after. A handful of people also reported feeling more confident in their cooking skills, and felt empowered to change their diet and defeat past roadblocks that kept them from maintaining a healthy diet.
While the positive results of the study may be attributed to a healthier diet, study authors note that each participant’s mental health typically improved despite their diets not fluctuating much after finishing the cooking program. “Improving people’s diet quality can be a preventive strategy to halt or slow the rise in poor mental health, obesity and other metabolic health disorders,” says Rees. “Future health programs should continue to prioritize the barriers to healthy eating such as poor food environments and time restrictions, whilst placing greater emphasis on the value of healthy eating via quick and easy home cooked meals, rich in fruit and vegetables and avoiding ultra-processed convenience foods.”
According to the team’s findings, cooking is still primarily an activity women enjoy. At the beginning of the study, 77 percent of female participants said they feel confident when cooking, while only 23 percent of men said the same. At the end of the seven week program, the results were split evenly among both genders. “This change in confidence could see change to the household food environment by reducing the gender bias and leading to a gender balance in home cooking,” Dr. Rees says. “This in turn may help to overcome some of the barriers presented by not knowing how to cook, such as easing the time constraints which can lead to readymade meals which are high in energy but low in nutritional value.”